From Ancient Rome to Human Morphology

Highlights from the 2017 Faculty Biennial Show

Last week, the 2017 Faculty Biennial Show opened in the Davis Gallery at the Colby Museum. This three-week exhibition features a variety of artworks created by five distinguished faculty members of Colby’s art department. Below are the artist statements of each faculty member, accompanied by their respective artworks. 

Bradley Borthwick
Assistant Professor of Art

My practice results from an interest in the conceptual and material significance of pre-industrial objects. This has meant that my work has taken forms such as historical research, material experimentation, performance, and photographic documentation. As a means to understand pre-industrial ways of making, I construct my works using primary materials: wood, bronze, beeswax, stone, and leather.  I am interested in the constructed object’s potential to refer to past cycles of western civilization, built and unbuilt, as means to reflect upon our contemporary trends and to question where we may be within the current epoch. I look to the possibility that my practice presents a critical alternative to contemporary mass production – I pursue a sensitivity to objects that have for many of us withered in our alienation from the production of everyday objects.

The work I present in the 2017 Colby Museum of Art Faculty Biennial makes reference to ancient Rome and two motifs I continue to mine from earlier time spent researching amongst the architectural ruins of that eternal city.  These motifs share the title “Nero’s Analogue” to enable iconic forms a moment when they may share space.   The first object is a carved relief that re-presents the stone mason’s elevation marker commonly found throughout the countless masonry blocks that lay the foundation of Rome.  This elevation marker is ubiquitous in its origin, yet is meant to reside here with singularity and meaningfulness relating to how the ancient Roman culture slowly adopted a new faith represented by the cross.  Interestingly, the mason’s precedent finds form in a cultural successor – this shift that shares the form of a cross is the construct that warrants the placement of two Roman amphorae reconstructions.  Such vessels present another measure of ubiquity – innumerable numbers of these wares carried oil and wine to all regions of the Roman Empire, each stamped with the omnipresent SPQR label.  Historically, the amphorae symbolized the reach of the emperor and in this instance reflect directly to Nero’s apparent narcissism.  The plaster vessels I create are cracked and further flawed by another shift in the acronym used to stamp a new label that identifies within a contemporary reach.

Left: Bradley Borthwick, Nero’s Analogue, 2017. Limestone, oak, plaster. Right: close-up of plaster vases.

Bevin Engman
Professor of Art

My understanding of life’s events is based on a constantly shifting continuum of information.  At one end of the continuum, vague or incomplete information about a highly specific occurrence – and at the other end, explicit detail about events that remain inscrutable.

Clarity is established; it wanes, and becomes obscured altogether – only to emerge again. The effects of partial transparency have long been of perceptual interest to me, as a metaphor for this cycle. With great variety translucent materials distort and obscure the physical “truth” of the elements they shield. If their color relationships can be understood, these interruptions form a logic of their own, that reveals the very nature of the obscuring element: it’s thickness, hue, material, and distance from the environment I work to comprehend.

Bevin Engman, Draped Gourd, 2017. Oil on raised coarse molding paste on wood panel.

Gary Green
Associate Professor of Art

The River is Moving (The Blackbird Must be Flying)

These photographs, all made along the same area of the Messalonskee Stream, are meditations on nature; quiet observations of trees reflected on moving water. The upside-down trees (which, ironically, look right-side up on my camera’s ground glass!), may steer one’s thoughts to the challenges we face as our way of life on this planet become less and less sustainable. Toward that reading, the title, taken from a stanza of Wallace Stevens’s Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, suggests that as nature—the earth, its flora, and fauna—we are all one.

Gary Green, Untitled from “The River is Moving (The Blackbird Must be Flying),” 2017. Archival pigment print.

Garry J. Mitchell
Associate Professor of Art

For me painting is a language. It’s a technique for thinking, and my hope is to provide a thought that is clear and embodies feeling. This requires a vocabulary of forms that are repeated, emphasized, and manipulated. It’s a process of putting something onto a surface and then reacting to it, then putting something else down and reacting to the changing relationships again and again, editing as I go. In this this way I am slowly constructing a painting.

Garry Mitchell, Circuit, 2016. Acrylic on panel.

Amanda Lilleston
Faculty Fellow in Art

Human bodies are landscapes whose physiological diversity indicate unique relationships with the world. We are each super organisms; as we age, we develop unique, complex ecologies. Our bodies are living transcripts of our experiences in the world that tell physical stories of our lives. No two bodies are the same; being in the world shapes our morphology, sculpts our bodies into records of the routines we live and the traumas we endure. Printmaking is my tool for studying what we recognize as our physical body. Biological ideas like replication and adaption are particularly well suited to print media—the evolutionary concept of path dependence is a functional parallel between “fixing” a printing matrix and the subsequent development of a printed image, and the fixed structure of our DNA and transformative changes that may occur in a person’s lifetime. I cut and rearrange my prints to allow for change and adaptation.

Amanda Lilleston, Untitled from the “Ontogeny” series, 2014-present. Woodcut with collaged elements.